NPR] Climate scientists agree that this century is getting much warmer and that such warming will likely bring economic pain to the U.S., but economists aren't sure how much. Now, a team of scientists and economists, writing in the upcoming issue of the journal Science, says it can at least tell which parts of the country are likely to suffer the most.
researchers started with history: How have heat waves and drought
affected the economy in the past? Then they applied that metric to a
range of future warming scenarios — from minor to extreme — and mapped
the effects, county by county across the U.S. They found that if warming
continues at recent rates, it could shave 3 to 6 percentage points off
of the country's gross domestic product by century's end — the warmer it
gets, the bigger the hit to the economy.
Solomon Hsiang acknowledges that the numbers are uncertain by scientific
standards but that they aren't really the bottom line. "I think the
takeaway message that is most striking is that the effects of climate
change on the U.S. are not the same everywhere," says Hsiang, an
economist at the University of California, Berkeley. "Where you are in
the country really matters."
Colder places like New England might see an economic
upturn — for example, from lower heating bills. But places that are
already hot, like the South and Midwest, could see huge damage to their
local economies, due to enormous electric bills, dying crops or mass
migration away from the area.
Maybe that is not so surprising,
but Hsiang takes it a step further: Climate change will redistribute
wealth by driving workers, businesses and agriculture away from those
hard-hit regions and move them mostly toward the north and west of the
country. Again, Hsiang says exactly how much is hard to predict. But he
says that is actually part of the new study's findings: "When you start
changing the climate," he says, "it starts affecting all these aspects
of the economy, and it makes the future world harder to predict." Read More